3 Tricks to Marketing Unsexy Products: Tips from Industry leaders in SAAS

When it comes to marketing functional but not particularly exciting products, there is no point trying to pull the wool over people's eyes with buzzwords and sparkle; rather share how it makes their life better.
3 Tricks to Marketing Unsexy Products: Tips from Industry leaders in SAAS
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When you are solving a "big" problem, or have developed a product which is trending -- VR, AR or machine learning, to name a few -- then creating a buzz around your company is easy. However, if you are part of the other 90 percent who are selling an "unsexy" product which solves "small but essential problems" for specific consumers, you will need to think outside the box about how to get people hot under the collar about what you have to offer.

Related: How to Market Your SaaS Business

Just because your product isn’t shiny and exciting doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. A cashless payments portal, accounting software or ecommerce tool could help mom-and pop business owners dramatically boost sales, improve customer service and streamline day-to-day business. But while I wouldn’t go as far as calling these product "grudge purchases" -- like getting new tires or re-roofing your house -- people are unlikely to post a Facebook or Twitter comment boasting about their SaaS investment, as they might with a car, house or hoverboard.

To help those businesses that have Saas products, I spoke to various experts about the best ways to market an unsexy product.

1. Understand the problem you are solving

The first step in being able to convince consumers that you have created something important, is truly understanding why your product is important for different users. Once you truly understand the problem you are solving, you can clearly express this to potential users in a language they understand.

Matt Hodges, senior director of marketing at Intercom, suggests leaning on the "jobs to be done" theory to clarify why consumers choose to use your product to solve a problem.To really add value to consumers, you need to look at what jobs your company is completing for them, and get to the root of why they choose your product above others for that specific task. This will then provide the value proposition to express to them in marketing campaigns.

“Rather than building a better version of what already exists, take the time to truly understand the problem and then build a solution based on that. This will help you really resonate with buyers,” said Matt Hodges. “You have to unpack problem before you try to solve it. Really understanding the market and customer pain points first, will then help development and also market placement.”

This can be done by hiring researchers. Another means of gaining feedback from customers about product is through conducting interviews via phone or online.

“I personally conducted more than 200 interviews with potential consumers trying to understand the problem,” says Ardi Iranmanesh, co-founder of Affinio. “Rather than putting words into their mouths, we tried to figure out how customers explains their own problem. What keywords do they use to describe the pain points? We then use these exact words when we describe our company and how we can help them.”

By truly understanding the root problem you are solving for consumers, you can then use this information in all of your marketing and communication, speaking to them in real terms about real differences you can make to their lives.

Related: 5 Growth-Hacking Secrets for Your SaaS Business

2. Speak to users in a language they understand

Once you understand who is using your product, and the difference it can make to users’ lives, you can then focus on conveying your message to these people in a clear and concise manner.

Instead of focusing on the technology which enables you to solve a problem, focus on the problem being solved.

“I am a big believer in no bull and no fluff. You shouldn’t try to dress your product to be better than it is,” says Hodges. “Use simple language to describe features, which is completely free of buzzwords. Explain to the user in simple terms which they understand the value which the product can bring to them.”

If your target audience are small business owners, the chances are that they are already constantly having to learn new skills to manage a business in the modern digital age. They shouldn’t have to read a dummies guide to programming to understand how your SaaS tool can make their lives easier.

Tobias Lütke, founder and CEO of Shopify argues, It is your job to take a ball of technology and make it accessible. SMB owners are incredibly smart and hard working, and people underestimate the amount of skills which they need nowadays. All of our founders used to be merchants. We acknowledge that it’s hard and don’t pretend it’s not. We just take a big amount of complexity and reduce it.”

Knowing your target user, having a real knowledge of their average day and the challenges and strains which they face, allows you to speak to them on a more personal level.

Mike McDerment CEO and founder of Freshbooks states: “It is important to explain value using units of measurements which really resonate with busy people. Instead of spinning their heads with industry buzzwords, explain to them how your tool could free up two extra hours per day of free time. That’s time to watch a movie with their partner, take their kids swimming, or sit down at the dinner table with their family.”

3. Create a buzz around your whole company rather than just your product

Just because your product itself might not have the "wow’ factor," doesn’t mean that you cannot make your company interesting to the general public. It is your product which users pay for, but it is your dream, mission and values that they are buying into.

Offer your community a behind-the-scenes look at the company. Rather than only sharing information related to your product, create stories which convey your aims and values, and share the journey which you and your team have taken to arrive at this point.  

“Human beings are hardwired to retain information through stories and pass it on. If you can tell a story, the retention rate will be higher and will be passed on faster and further,” says McDerment. “You need to make yourself interesting at all costs. Create novel and quirky stories to grab eyeballs, and then share them with the media and on social channels.”

At FreshBooks, McDerment and his team have created a number of stories which portray their central values. From making every new employee spend their first month in customer service, sending employees on blind dates to improve communication, hanging hangover kits on doors after conference events, to running free shuttles from the airport to conferences just to make the experience easier for attendees, the company creates experiences which share the fact they hold customer service at the company’s core.

However, Jamie Petten, director of marketing for L-SPARK warns "Flashy stunts create a good moment, but it’s just a moment. What will really be impactful and memorable is building a community and sharing quality stories about what your company is and has been doing on its journey.”

Related: How to Determine Your SaaS Business' Cost of Acquisition

When it comes to gaining media coverage, you have a much better chance of being covered in a leading publication sharing business advice, founder stories, interesting insights about company culture or tips for how to improve processes and workflow, than you do if you focus on your product.

Instead of trying to wow a general audience with fluff and flair, experts state that it is best to hyper-target specific audiences with content which resonates with them. Ben Yoskovitz, co-founder of Highline Beta says: “It's about finding the people who find your product sexy. Highlight who these people are and then sell your mission to them in a clear manner.”

When it comes to marketing functional but not particularly exciting products, there is no point trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes with buzzwords and sparkle; the trick lies in truly grasping the root of the problem you solve for different users, and then explaining the value to them in language they understand.